Mangrove trees can protect vulnerable coastal communities from hurricanes

Climate change is making the impact of hurricanes and other storms more dangerous—and more expensive. As the costs loom over coastlines across the globe, vulnerable communities are looking for new ways to mitigate the economic impact. A promising approach would be to use existing natural habitats for protection, and a recent report points towards mangroves as a favorable candidate.

Mangrove trees typically grow in coastal waters and have dense and stable root structures, making them perfect for protecting against both winds and storm surges.

Researchers documented how the presence of mangroves alters the relationship between hurricane strength (wind speed) and human-made light patterns as observed from space.

As one researcher from Georgia State University reports, “Because the consumption of artificial light during the night time increases with income, the amount of human-made lights present after a storm tells us how quickly areas are recovering”.

Using satellite imagery from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the researchers were able to gauge the evolution of local economic activity in various communities in the aftermath of hurricane strikes. They found that areas protected by wide belts of mangrove trees are better protected against losses, and their economies rebound more quickly.

The findings show that on top of the ecological benefits of mangrove trees — such as biodiversity and carbon sequestration — there is also strong economic value in preserving these dense ecosystems.

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